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In our phone app, when we have multi step flows we usually have one question per screen (except when obviously related, i.e. city and state).

Recently folks I have been working with have proposed it’s better to have multiple questions on the same screen, as that will be fewer steps/screens to finish the task. I’ve always been of the opinion that in an app, the single question pattern “feels” faster to me, as I feel I’m always making progress.

Has anyone done any studies on the topic? Rules of thumb?

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I don't have any studies but the following thoughts:

Dividing questions in multiple screens is not done to increase the felt speed to fill in information. It is done not to overwhelm the user with too much information.

Every viewport should host only one question / step. This makes it clear to the user that she has not to scroll down in order to answer all questions. If you have only one question per screen there is only one direction to navigate. But a question can have multiple answers. You made the example of city and state. So the user has to fill out two input fields for one question.

So the rule of thumbs would be: Combine input fields into one question if they make sense. e.g. rather ask for the address than for name, street, zip, city etc. This contains a lot of input fields but for the user it is clear that an address contains multiple input fields. If you do so, the there are less steps and this might feel faster than having a lot of questions.

To give the user a feeling of orientation you should definitively give some feedback on the progress. This could be e.g. steps, progress bar or such.

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Imagine you have all your question intupts in one form. Do they have any complex relations like mutual enable/disable logics or different ways to go depending on particular answer? If so, your current approach helps to hide form's complexity. Also, if you have device of limited screen size your approach avoid difficulties with scrolling and validation errors displaying. Or maybe each of your question page contains your product helpful hints, promotions or just beautiful images that makes it more easy and pleasure to use. Just want to say that it depends on your app/product/service and its audience.

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I haven't found specific research about perceived speed for single-question, but it would be highly contextual and hard to generalize. The simplest way to decide this for your domain would be to create a prototype with both designs and test it on users.

In the meantime I would recommend taking a look at Luke Wroblewski's insightful article about onboarding of bike sharing apps. He reframes the question from being about perceived speed to being about getting to the user's core value asap.


Theory:

On mobile breaking things up can work if you maintain information scent, indicate meaningful progress to trigger users need to complete and keep it short enough to maintain the users motivation.

There are three important concepts that I would use to consider if single-question is best:

  • Interaction cost: Sum of cognitive and physical efforts
  • Perceived complexity: How hard does it seem

If there are many questions on one page it might seem excessive and be perceived as more complex than one question at a time. However if the amount seems reasonable and they are connected, then there might be a higher interaction cost by answering one question at a time.

Jakob Nielsen points to that single step (one page) vs multistep (staged disclosure) also depends upon the use-context:

Staged disclosure is useful when you can divide a task into distinct steps that have little interaction. It is problematic when the steps are interdependent and users must alternate between them.

Source: Progressive disclousure

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depends strongly who your user is. We work to GDS guidelines and that is strongly one thing per page because we want users to avoid errors. One thing per page focuses on just one thing for the user, one bit of content to read, one decision to make.

If you're designing for expert users who want to do the same thing over and over again, quickly, this approach won't work.

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